What are good “day jobs” for writers, actors or others looking to break in in LA? Are there certain jobs that provide flexibility and are not entirely draining of the soul?

–Ron
Myrtle Beach, SC

To me, the criteria for a good day job are the following:

1) It should pay enough that you can live, but not much more. If you’re raking in enough money for a nice new car, there’s less motivation to pursue your “real” career.

2) You shouldn’t work with crazy people. Life is too short. There are enough insane people in the film industry; you don’t need them in your day job too.

3) Some flexibility. You need to be able to take a meeting on 24 hours notice.

4) Not too physically, emotionally, or intellectually draining. You need to have enough juice left to do your real work after hours.

5) Tolerable enough that you don’t dread going to work, but you’ll happily quit when given the chance.

Obviously, the cliché for actors is to work as waiters. In truth, this can be a good choice. If you work nights, you have your days free for call-backs and classes, and there’s always the hope that a big producer or director will notice your striking talents while you refill their passion-fruit ice tea. For almost exactly the same reason — being noticed — many actors deliberately avoid restaurant jobs, on the fear that the same guy they auditioned for this morning will recognize them. Writers are in much the same boat, although since writers are almost never good-looking, there’s very little chance they’ll be discovered at Mastro’s Steak House.

The other classic choice is to work as an assistant, answering phones and making copies. This is what I did, as did Rawson and Dana, my two-former-now-powerful former assistants. If you work for the right person, in or out of the film industry, this can be a good job. But for every good boss, there are two or three psychos, so it’s a risk. But you’ll almost certainly learn more as an assistant than as a waiter.

Beyond these two paths, there are a thousand other things people do as day jobs in Los Angeles: dog walkers, tutors, computer fix-it guys. Two of my friends index books, which pays well but is crushingly boring. Another friend is a freelance business manager, handling the daily accounting for rock stars. And many screenwriters work as readers, writing coverage on other screenplays while writing their own.

In finding a day job, ask yourself what other people always say you’re good at. Then do it. But never stop paying attention to your real career: the one you’re not getting paid for yet.